Sexy – Creating a Stand-Out Online Public Relations Plan (Part 1 of 2)

Some people mistakenly assume that “Public Relations” has only to do with mitigating bad press. However, when we consider the concept of public relations in a broader context, we see the value in developing and implementing an ongoing strategy for handling our company’s public image. All businesses, whether they are sole proprietorships or publicly-held corporations, need to ensure that their public image is consistent, positive and appropriate for their industry. Public relations involve many levels, including the image we present not only to customers, but also to vendors and even employees.

One of the greatest advantages of online PR is that we have a unique opportunity to bypass the traditional media filters used to determine the few stories that make it to the public. Now, with web portals like Yahoo and Google, along with “vertical sites,” which actually pull several websites of common interest together, you can go directly to the media source. The biggest challenge becomes, however, how you ensure that your message rises to the top. After all, people can only identify you as an expert in your field if they know you exist!

The quality of your public relations plan can be the difference between success and failure, but how do we begin, and how do we know how well it’s working? Following are a few simple steps to follow when creating your professional public relations plan:

Step 1 – Hit Your Target: Your business needs to have a public relations plan, just as it has a business plan and a marketing plan. In today’s information-saturated market, sending out a few press releases a year to the local paper doesn’t qualify as a viable PR plan. With the benefit of the Internet, news about your services and achievements can be distributed nationally, and even globally, as well as to local media outlets. Newspapers, ezines, blogs, business and social networking sites all can help you get your message to the public for little or no cost. However, be careful to not waste your time with a shotgun-blast approach to publicity. Taking the time to identify your target markets, and recognizing which media outlets are most likely to connect with that target, can save you time and headaches in the long-term.

Step 2 – Become a Virtual Networking Guru: Online Public Relations involves connecting with people in a personal way that is more effective than advertising alone ever could be.

  • Social Networking sites: Free sites such as MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and others allow you to set up a profile, keep it current and get to know other like-minded people.
  • Newsgroups and message boards: Do an Internet search for your type of business. Find out where people are “hanging out” online. Spend your time on the busiest boards for maximum exposure. You have to be ready to invest your time and resources in others too; don’t just advertise. Give advice, seek advice, and get to know your fellow posters, and they’ll come to see you as a valuable business partner.
  • Referral and affiliate programs: Offer tangible incentives to people who bring business your way. It’s good business etiquette to spend as much time thanking and recognizing people as you spend asking them for something. Always recognize when a lead comes from an associate, and make it worth their while to do it again.

Step 3 – Be an expert in your field: Having knowledge that others need makes people come to you, which is always better then you going to them! How do you become an expert? You’ll have to come back next month to find out. Read Part two of Online Public Relations in the April Issue.

Get Results From Your Public Relations Firm: Do’s and Don’ts for Start-Ups Seeking Publicity

Most new business owners know the value of publicity for promoting their company’s reputation and selling their product or service. However, many don’t know how to go about getting it. They may hire a public relations firm – a good idea even for start-ups – then be disappointed with the results.

This does not have to be the case. If you are the owner of a new business, you can have a successful working relationship with your public relations firm and achieve your goals simply by following some basic guidelines.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts that should put you on the right track.

DO:

1. Expect honest representation. Your public relations firm should have a good idea of what will – and will not – get attention in the news media. They should also know the best media outlets and reporters to approach to get editorial coverage for your business. Listen to them. Problems in a PR firm-client relationship often stem from public relations counselors going against their better judgment and pitching a story they know will not fly, just to please an insistent client. Media pitches for a company with a reputation of sending out material that isn’t newsworthy are likely to be ignored.

2. Communicate everything about your business to your public relations counselor – not just what you think he or she needs to know. You may have some hidden gems of stories in your business that you – being an insider and not attuned to media interests – may not think are all that interesting. You should also share information about any potential problems or embarrassing situations. A PR professional will keep your confidences and help you manage negative publicity, should it occur.

3. Ask for a crisis communication plan. You may never have to utilize it – and let’s hope that’s true – but having a crisis communication plan in place and circulated among top officers of your company will come in handy to tap down negative stories before they balloon into major problems that could damage your company’s reputation.

4. Have a media contact procedure in place. Everyone – from the receptionist to the president – needs to know what to do if and when the media calls. The best advice is to have everyone refer calls from the news media to the public relations firm. They can sort out all the particulars and arrange for any interviews.

5. Respond quickly to interview requests as they are presented to you by your public relations person. Media interviews are an opportunity for you to present your company the way you want it presented. But reporters have deadlines; if you aren’t available, they will interview someone else, and you may miss out on an opportunity to get positive media coverage.

DON’T:

1. Expect a guarantee. Media coverage cannot be guaranteed, unless you do a “pay-for-play” agreement with a particular publication, in which you buy advertising and get an article on your company in return. Other than that type of arrangement – usually referred to as an “advertorial” – no public relations firm can, or should, guarantee coverage.

2. Be a one-hit wonder. One big round of publicity is not going to carry you very far. A good public relations program is an ongoing enterprise, and often a “drip-drip-drip” strategy is better than a one-time splashy feature.

3. Be caught unprepared. Ask for media training. You may be a great communicator in many ways, but doing a media interview is a special skill. Having some knowledge of how the media works, developing strong messages, and practicing delivering them will make you a better, more confident company representative.

4. Expect media coverage to do it all. There are many other ways to reach your targeted audience, including social media, marketing communications, and opportunities for direct engagement. A good PR person will look at your firm – its goals, its product or service offerings, its target markets – and design a communication strategy specific to your needs.

5. Be discouraged if your plan takes a while to get off the ground. You want to have everything – messages, action plan, trained spokespersons, etc. – in place before you go public. First impressions are lasting ones.

Why Are Public Relations More Effective Than Ordinary Advertising?

You are dying to create an impact of your brand in the mind of your target customers. You think advertising is the best and the most effectual method and so you search every nook and corner of the city and pick out an advertising agency you think is the best. Needless to say, a huge amount of money goes into this venture but I am sure you won’t mind that, foreseeing the impact you believe it is going to create in your niche market. Finally one fine day, your advertisements are all over the TV screens. You find it funny, innovative and effective and lie back relaxed in your seats deeming you have done a good job. You dream of customers lining up in front of your store to purchase your services or products. Now, does it look like I am speaking about you? If so, Wake up!

The real question as regards advertising is how far you have succeeded in associating your brand with the advertisements and if whether your brand name can be retrieved from the minds of your targeted customers at least when they see your product on shop-shelves. Some of the advertisements might get real lucky and create long-lasting impressions in the minds of customers, but this need not be the case always.

There is a famous quote which goes like this “While adverting is paid for, publicity is prayed for”. The credibility factor that is associated with public relations and publicity for your products and services is always much more when compared to traditional advertising. Let it be the shell life, costs or the implied endorsements-no matter how you view it, public relations gain an upper hand. With the ultimate goal being behavioral change, it is quality that matters the most in Public relations. While advertising and marketing can be traced back to you, Public relations in most cases come from third parties and hence play a significant role in branding your product or service. In spite of its glamorous outfit, Public relations has got much more effect and meaning attached to it.

When compared to advertising, public relations are far more economical and reach out easily to your targeted customers in masses. It throws light upon the real and actual demand that the product or service has in the market and thus facilitates in creating awareness on a wide scale. Relationships with the media help you to get out of the conventional in-house communications. If your competitors are not employing Public Relation techniques, then you are always on the better end by reaping the very many benefits that are gifted by Public relations.

Think twice if you believe the exclusive way to market your product and service is advertising alone. A bit of both would always be better and it is the best if your marketing plans give predominant importance to public relations. If Public relations did not form a part of your existing marketing agenda, it is high time to implement them!